PISCATAWAY, NJ–Rutgers University men’s basketball team won its first game of the season on November 7, defeating Bryant University 73-71.
While other teams are mired in controversy and without a clear future, the men’s basketball coach is hoping to win enough of the next 29 games to bring the team to one of the two postseason tournaments.
The team hasn’t made it to the NCAA tournament since 1991, and has not qualified for the National Invitational Tournament (NIT) since 2006.
But the program was recently recognized as the nation’s most improved team in 2018-19 by Sports Illustrated.
The Scarlet Knights finished the season with seven victories in the Big Ten its most since joining the conference five years ago, an impressive feat especially since their roster ranked 330th in experience.
The experience gain by players from last season should prove to be valuable for this upcoming season.
On October 29, head coach Steve Pikiell addressed the media from a conference room inside of the brand-new RWJ Barnabas Health Athletic Performance Center.
Coach Pikiell is heading into his fourth season as coach of the Scarlet Knights.
Pikiell told reporters, “I’m very excited about this season and I am very excited about my team, I always try to say this just don’t tell them.”
He shared high praise and gratitude for his staff and season ticket holders.
Pikiell gave a brief overview of the roster and gushed over the versatility that he believes this roster is full of, as well as he believes that size on this team is a strength.
Junior guard Geo Baker and senior forward Shaq Carter are the captains. Coach Pikiell talked about the improvements of juniors Jacob Young, Peter Kiss, and co-captain Geo Baker, and sophomores Myles Johnson and Mamadou Doucoure.
“Toughness is a quality this program is built around, and this is the most fastest and athletic by far that I’ve seen since being here,”Coach Pikiell stated.
Rutgers was predicted by some to finish twelfth in the conference at Big Ten media day coach, and Pikiell was asked if he felt this was a fair assessment of where his team is.
“No, I never ever worried about were your picked, because I don’t know how good the other teams are in the league, I know were better,” he said.
“It is important that are players can adjust from game to game,” Pikiell continued. “Michigan State plays the fastest tempo in the country and Wisconsin plays at the slowest pace in the country we need are guys to be able to handle that each night.”
Pikiell was asked if making the NCAA tournament was a realistic goal for this team his response was interesting.
“Last season I had 9 different starting line-ups,” recalled the coach. “All 11 scholarship players can be starters.”
“This is going to be a team where we need everybody to buy in, I think we can absolutely play in the NCAA tournament, we need to stay healthy that is going to be a huge key.”
Coach Pikiell went on to say, “Ron Harper Jr. ended last season the right way, he is a hard guy to guard with his versatility”.
Pikiell hopes the program continues to trend upwards with an improvement in wins and gain respectability within the Big Ten.
Will Chase is a contributing writer to New Brunswick Today. He is currently the host of The One Five Cast which streams across all major podcast platforms.